How to Do It
With the right outlook, awe can be found almost anywhere, but it is most likely to occur in places that involve two key features: physical vastness and novelty. These could include natural settings, like a trail lined with tall trees, or urban settings, like the top of a skyscraper. (For more ideas of where to take your walk, see the list lower down.)
However, the features of where you actually end up experiencing awe may vary. No matter where you choose to take your walk, these general guidelines should increase your opportunities to find awe-inspiring moments.
- Turn off your cell phone. Cell phones (and other gadgets) can be distracting and draw your attention away from what’s happening around you. Even better, don’t bring your phone with you at all so that you won’t be tempted to check it.
- Tap into your child-like sense of wonder. Young children are in an almost constant state of awe since everything is so new to them. During your walk, try to approach what you see with fresh eyes, imagining that you’re seeing it for the first time.
- Go somewhere new. Each week (or month, or whatever frequency works for you), try to choose a new location. You’re more likely to feel awe in a novel environment where the sights and sounds are unexpected and unfamiliar to you. That said, some places never seem to get old, so there’s nothing wrong with revisiting your favorite spots if you find that they consistently fill you with awe. The key is to recognize new features of the same old place.
Here are some more specific ideas for where to take an awe-inspiring walk.
- A mountain with panoramic views
- A trail lined with tall trees
- The shore of an ocean, lake, river, or waterfall
- A clear night when you can see the stars
- A place where you can watch a sunset or sunrise
- The top of a skyscraper… or look up in an area dense with tall buildings
- A historic monument
- A part of your city that you’ve never explored before
- A large ballpark or stadium
- A city art walk and explore different galleries
- Botanical gardens or a zoo to see plants and animal species you’ve never seen before
- Walk around with no destination in mind and see where it takes you
- A planetarium or aquarium
- A historic mansion, cathedral, or opera house
- Walk slowly around a museum, giving your full attention to each piece
Join us for The Art & Science of Awe:
A day of cutting-edge research and awe-inspiring performances
Date: June 4, 2016
Location: UC Berkeley campus
At this day-long event, the leading scientific experts on awe—including the GGSC's Dacher Keltner—will reveal how it can improve our mental, physical, and social well-being. Their talks will be complemented by inspiring presentations and performances by educators, thinkers, and artists, including world-renowned musician Wu Man and former US poet laureate Robert Hass. 5 CE credit hours available. Register now>
Why You Should Try It
Sometimes it can feel like we’re at the center of our own universe, fixated on our personal concerns without much regard for other people. Experiencing awe can jolt us out of this self-focused mindset, stirring feelings of wonder and inspiration by reminding us that we’re a part of something larger than ourselves.
Researchers define awe as a response to things we perceive as vast and that alter the way we understand the world. Research suggests that experiencing awe not only enhances happiness and physical health but also reduces feelings of entitlement and increases generosity.
Experiencing awe may seem like something that requires travel to distant lands, but there are many opportunities closer to home—we just need to seek them out and notice them. This practice helps you do just that.
Evidence That It Works
Piff, P. K., Dietze, P., Feinberg, M., Stancato, D. M., & Keltner, D. (2015). Awe, the small self, and prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108(6), 883-899.
Some people stood in a grove of towering eucalyptus trees and gazed up for one minute; others looked up at a building (not a particularly awe-inspiring one) for a minute. Afterwards, someone working with the researchers “accidentally” spilled a bunch of pens on the ground. Those who had looked at the trees subsequently offered more help (they picked up more pens); they also seemed less inclined to behave in unethical ways and felt less strongly that they were entitled to preferential treatment.
Why It Works
Research suggests that awe has a way of lifting people outside of their usual routine and connecting them with something larger and more significant. This sense of broader connectedness and purpose can help relieve negative moods and improve happiness, and it can also make people more generous as they become less focused on themselves. Evoking feelings of awe may be especially helpful when people are feeling bogged down by day-to-day concerns.
Could your life be more awesome? Take our Awe Quiz to find out: